TV series review: Babylon Berlin – season 3 (ARD/Sky, 2020)
tl;dr: German Noir thriller manages to get even better, somehow!
This review contains spoilers for Babylon Berlin seasons 1-2!
I freely admit that I didn’t have super high expectations for the third season of Babylon Berlin when it first came out, but then I started watching it and it really caught my attention. Perhaps because of my (at the time) new-found love of Fedora-wearing 1920s gangsters, and the fact that the relatively short time frame in which this season takes place makes it feel a lot more urgent than the first two. But damn, season three delivers!
The main “mystery” of this season is a death at the Babelsberg film studios. It turns out to be murder, and someone is out to sabotage the film production. Who? Well, considering one of the major backers of it is Edgar “The Armenian” Kasabian (Mišel Matičević), Berlin night club owner and organised crime boss, take your pick. It could be anyone.
Another recurring theme is Colonel Wendt (Benno Fürmann), who took over Councillor Benda’s position in season two, now scheming to oust Zörgiebel (Thomas Thieme) as the chief of police, and secretly masterminded Benda’s assassination, putting Greta Overbeck (Leonie Benesch) behind bars. How do you radicalise a house maid? Fake her Communist boyfriend’s death and blame it on the chief of the political police. But, as Greta discovered at the end of season two, her darling Fritz (Jacob Matschenz) was very much alive. Killing Benda wasn’t a Communist revenge plot for killing one of their own, but a carefully planned Nazi plot to get rid of a high-ranking Jew and put one of their own in his place. Question is, can the guilt-ridden Greta be persuaded to retract her claim that she saw “Fritz” alive and in a Sturmabteilung (SA) uniform?
At work, Charlotte Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries) has a difficult time trying to pass her police exams to become a fully fledged police officer. The head of Homicide, Ernst “Buddha” Gennat (Udo Samel), likes her, but there are people like Wilhelm Böhm (Godehard Giese) who thinks women have no business being police officers, and crime lab analyst Leopold Ullrich (Luc Feit), who is a stickler for details, is perhaps more willing to overlook simple mistakes made by male candidates. At home, Charlotte now shares a flat with her younger sister Toni (Irene Böhm), who decides to make her own luck in life.
Things at home aren’t all rosy for Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch) either. Moritz (Ivo Pietzcker) is being a moody teenager who thinks the Hitler Youth look more fun than the Catholic youth group his mother Helga (Hannah Herzsprung) got him into. Who wants to help the elderly rake leaves in their gardens when you can be out hunting deer with the boys? Helga and Gereon are having some relationship troubles too – seems like the honeymoon period is over. But she has found a new friend in steel manufacturer Alfred Nyssen (Lars Eidinger), at least when he’s not busy plotting to profit from the eventual, and inevitable, stock market crash …
Boarding house owner Elisabeth Behnke (Fritzi Haberlandt) really comes into her own, while her journalist boarder Samuel Katelbach (Karl Markovics) is still trying to break the news that will show how Germany are secretly re-arming their military forces.
Dr Schmidt (Jens Harzer) continues his increasingly unorthodox treatment methods, which now apparently includes dabbling in the occult. This comes in handy when movie star Tristan Rot (Sabin Tambrea) wants to contact his murdered wife in order to find out who killed her.
As he’s the sabotaged film production’s main financier, we spend a lot more time with Edgar Kasabian in this season. Turns out The Armenian is the father of two children and husband to a former movie star, Esther Korda (Meret Becker). Can the death of the film’s leading lady be an opportunity for her to make a big silver screen comeback? We also meet Kasabian’s sometimes brutal business partner Walter Weintraub (Ronald Zehrfeld), who’s spent the past year in jail for tax fraud. Turns out there’s a bit more to him than simply being Kasabian’s sidekick. Both are welcome additions to the already massive ensemble, as is General Seeger’s communist daughter Marie-Luise (Saskia Rosendahl). You wouldn’t expect the General to have a daughter who’s a revolutionary!
We also reacquaint ourselves with crime scene photographer Gräf (Christian Friedel), and we see more of Henning (Thorsten Merten) and Czerwinski (Rüdiger Klink), who occasionally serve as comic relief.
There is of course a bit of same old, same old – for instance, there’s still the whole “will they, won’t they” between Charlotte and Gereon, which is a ship I’m fully on board with. The third season is also still full of beautiful sets and costumes, and while parts are obviously going to be CGI for practical reasons, they are well made and don’t detract from the viewing. It really goes to show that when you spend enough money on the production of a show, you can get great results.
This season’s recurring song is Wir sind uns lang verloren gegangen, which I’m sad to say isn’t half as interesting as Zu Asche, zu Staub, but what does that matter when you have everything else to enjoy? The tension is ramping up. The upcoming stock market crash is looming large, the Nazis are on the rise, corruption is rife, and there’s the threat of gangland warfare in the underworld.
The third season is delightful. It’s dark and gritty, but at the same time glitzy and glamorous. The acting and storytelling are top notch. The characters nuanced, and not necessarily how they first appear. It’s a great continuation of a strong start. I find the murder mystery at the film studio vastly more compelling than a train car full of gold, at any rate, and I do love me a gangster character with layers.
5 out of 5 Tommy guns.